Monday, December 30, 2013

CDC Sets a Gold Standard for Communication Measurement in Government

Posted by: Jeff Brooke, Principal Consultant, Organizational Communication & Change Management, The MITRE Corp.* - December 30, 2013

CDC’s anti-smoking campaign last year included stunning vignettes offered as tips to smokers from actual former smokers. My favorite spokesperson was Terrie. She suggested smokers make a recording with their own voice for their grandchildren, maybe “sing them a lullaby, while you still can.” She said this with assistance from an artificial voice box while applying her wig. 

Even more stunning, for a measurement geek like me, is an impressive paper in the September 2013 edition of The Lancet that describes CDC’s effectiveness measures for the campaign—Tips from Former Smokers.  The bottom line measure was that over 100,000 people quit smoking, but the paper reveals many other measures that actually directed the campaign and made it a success. 

A useful way to understand CDC’s accomplishment is to explore what they measured, and then look at how they conducted those measures. A framework I like to use in thinking about what to measure is: activities, reactions, retention, and results. 

1.    Activities:
The number of communication activities and their cost.
2.    Reactions: The communication noticed by the stakeholder and how they reacted to it.
3.    Retention: The knowledge and feelings the stakeholders take away.
4.    Results: The behaviors influenced by the communication, and the resulting business outputs and outcomes. 
Screenshot of the Tips From Former Smokers website. Visible text includes the CDC's logo, with text, "Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC 24/7: Saving Lives, Protecting People." A header above rotating photos is cut off but reads, "TIPS FROM FORMER SMOKERS: In memory of Nathan Moose, Tips campaign participa... public health hero, who dies of illness caused by seco... smoke on October 17, 2013. He was 54... Learn more ab..." Below, there is a photo of Terrie, mentioned in the blog post.
Screenshot of the CDC's campaign website.

CDC’s study maps perfectly to these four categories. Then they used focus groups, surveys and existing data to measure within this framework.

1. Activities

The $54 million CDC campaign was the first federally funded, national antismoking campaign. Using existing data about local markets allowed CDC to target their ad placements so carefully that they expected to reach four out of five smokers.  Always try to leverage existing data as CDC did in crafting their tactical plans. TV accounted for three-fourths of their tactics, with radio, billboards, internet (banners, displays, Facebook, etc.) and print mainly in supporting roles.

In addition to tracking their exact number of spots they placed they also calculated the number of free placements they received by news organizations covering the campaign.

2. Reactions

Poster reads, "A TIP FROM A FORMER SMOKER. RECORD YOUR VOICE FOR LOVED ONES WHILE YOU STILL CAN. Terrie, Age 52, North Carolina." There is a additional text below, but it is too small to read.
Striking poster from the CDC campaign.
The campaign developers assumed that hard-hitting images of death would motivate smokers to try to quit. Fortunately, they tested this assumption using focus groups of smokers—and proved themselves wrong. Smokers indicated that death is an abstract concept for many and simply didn’t make an impression. But the focus group participants also indicated that the diseases from smoking—long before death—could be quite meaningful. So CDC shifted gears and developed the campaign you’ve probably seen.

Focus groups were the right measurement tool because they provide understanding. The dialogue nature of focus groups allows the researcher to probe and explore.  Measurement before communicating, as CDC accomplished, is called formative research—it helps us adjust our communication plan before launching it.

Did the new message work in reaching people? 78% smokers recalled seeing at least one Tips advertisement on television during the three-month campaign. To determine this, and most of the measures in this study, CDC conducted a survey of a sample of nearly 6,000 smokers and non-smokers before and after the campaign to compare the difference. Since they collected a statistically reliable sample, they were able to generalize their findings to the full U.S. population.

3. Retention

The focus group findings allowed CDC to reset their communication goals—the targets for retained knowledge and feelings. Instead of focusing on the length of life, they now showed how smoking degrades the quality of life and how to access support to quit. For the feelings side, they now targeted empathy for and connection with former smokers. While CDC could have measure this intermediate step of retained knowledge and feelings, they instead cut right to the litmus test—results.

4. Results

As with any good communication plan, CDC’s targeted behaviors that would yield outputs that would in turn yield outcomes. They targeted three major behaviors:

1.    Peer influence: Getting friends and family to talk about the dangers of smoking. 
2.    Seek support: Getting people to seek resources to help them quit.
3.    Attempts to quit: Getting people to actually attempt to stop smoking.

Why these three behaviors? Once again, existing data showed the way. CDC reviewed existing studies of different approaches to influencing people to quit long term, and these three behaviors surfaced as effective. CDC then used their survey to measure whether their campaign influenced these behaviors.  Comparing the pre- and post-survey data, they found:

  • Peer influence: Recommendations by non-smokers to quit doubled.
  • Seek support: There was a dramatic increase in the use of cessation services. For example, calls to 1-800-QUIT-NOW increased 132%.
  • Attempts to quit: 12% increase in number of attempts.

The targeted output from these three behaviors was people who quit smoking. Comparing their pre- and post-survey data, they found that the campaign influenced at least 100,000 people to quit smoking.

The outcome CDC targeted was an increase in quality-adjusted life years at a reasonable cost. Quality-adjusted life years is the number of years of life added by an intervention. Each year in perfect health counts for one full year, with partial years added for people in various states of poor health.

CDC’s outcome was almost ½ million life-years added to the US population. Dividing the $54 million cost of the campaign (all costs) by this figure means it cost less than $200 per life-year. Another useful benchmark—the cost represented less than 3 days of the $8 billion the tobacco industry spends annually on promotion and marketing.

What’s the value of your communication efforts? CDC’s approach to measurement represents a gold standard—a level of sophistication that takes time to develop. The trick is to get started with just one or two measures, then slowly build your capacity over time.

Approved for Public Release; Distribution Unlimited. 13-4571
©2014-The MITRE Corporation

* MITRE is a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers for sponsoring federal agencies. Jeff is also a Senior Lecturer in Organizational Communication at Northeastern University.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including Analytics Is Your Job and Live Tweeting Government Events: DOs and DON'Ts.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Congrats FCN 2014 Leadership Team

Posted by: Britt Ehrhardt, December 24, 2013

The results are in! Please welcome your 2014 Federal Communicators Network leadership team. We’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the coming year. Personally, I’m really excited to work with such an accomplished and enthusiastic group.

Dave Hebert, USGS
Britt Ehrhardt, NIH

Activity Team Leads
Ethan Alpern, USGS
Cori Bassett, DHS/ICE
Sara Crocoll, NIH
Debra Harris, DFAS
Yasmine Kloth, NIH
Lisa Wilcox, USDA

Thanks to all who participated in nominations and voting. The competition for activity lead positions was very close. Our organization is lucky that so many qualified folks were willing to step forward to fill these roles.

And, of course, we’ve all benefited from the service of the 2013 team, who have labored mightily on your behalf over the past months. As the year draws to a close, I’ll send out a note about that, so you can join me in thanking them for their service.

David Hebert

Internal Communications Chief, U.S. Geological Survey
David on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I believe that government at every level employs professional communicators — like those of you in the FCN — who can bring tremendous expertise and creativity to bear on great challenges facing our nation. I want 2014 to be the year that collective potential is realized through our Network. In 2013, we on the FCN board worked to help you do your job through practical blog posts, training, and social events. We also moved to the community, which brought us the listserv where we debated, discussed, and shared training, job announcements, and news in ways we couldn't before. And we are in the midst of a budding relationship with the FCN's counterparts in the Canadian and British governments, which is yielding useful results for you (stay tuned for more). In 2014, I want to help bring you regular training on critical topics (that you can attend from anywhere), more chances outside of work to make valuable connections (that you have to be there for), and more content and problem solving that employ all that formidable skill of yours. In short, I am passionate about the FCN, I want to help it become all that it’s capable of being, and I hope you will give me another chance to serve you in its leadership. I have 10 years of experience in gov. comm., including executive comm. and employee engagement, public affairs, congressional outreach, web, social media, multimedia, publications, and more. I've also been a co-chair for the FCN for the past year. See more at

Britt Ehrhardt

Technical Writer/Editor, National Institutes of Health
Britt on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).  
This is a tough time to be in government communications. We're beset by shrinking budgets, falling morale (in some cases), a low approval rating of the federal workforce, and a rapidly changing media environment with new demands for technical skills. Now, more than ever, we need professional organizations to link us to each other and to training opportunities. FCN has provided some of this over the years, and there are opportunities for so much more. Over the past year, I've done a lot of the small and big things that keep FCN running on a daily basis, from Board meetings to website hosting. Dave and I managed the transition to the GSA listserv, which gives you so much more access to your peers. I also ran the FCN blog and website over the past year, soliciting, editing and laying out more than 40 posts. The FCN Twitter account was me too, where we grew followers from 60 to 1,300, as was some of the LinkedIn and GovLoop activity. And finally, we've opened some great conversations with other GSA Communities of Practice and with international organizations that do the same thing for government communicators in other countries. We hope those conversations will bear great fruit in the coming year.

Ethan Alpern

Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Geological Survey
Ethan on LinkedIn
Ethan on Twitter
Less than 3 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
Though I am a newcomer to the government communications environment, I pride myself on being adventurous and creative. Even while working for the U.S. Geological Survey, a government science agency, I have found ways to integrate popular culture into my writing. For instance, I most recently wrote a feature called "Could Species Conservation be Key to Winning a College Football National Championship", which is a new and innovative approach to science publicity ( I know I can bring that same enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication to Federal Communications Network, and I would love the opportunity to do so. Ethan

Cori Bassett

Strategic Communications Branch Chief, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Cori on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
In my 17 years as a public affairs professional, I have led, directed, and administered public affairs communication programs at the national and local levels. I am particularly interested in building on the great work of those before me to make this network an even more valuable resource and to bring more awareness across the federal government of the importance of good communication both internal and external. I would love the opportunity work with other government professionals to share ideas but also to create some new and exciting ways for federal communicators to learn from each other and share best practices. I am most interested in working with any of the social media activities or blog.

Sara Crocoll

Presidential Management Fellow, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Sara on LinkedIn
Less than 3 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I have thoroughly enjoyed being an FCN member and am excited about the opportunity to take on a larger role within FCN. This year, I was happy to contribute a post to the blog and have recommended the group to many fellow government communicators. During my fellowship, I have focused on developing my government communications skills, especially with regard to new media. I would relish the opportunity to use and expand on those skills in support of FCN. I have also developed a knowledge of social media analytics, which I could use to analyze the success of FCN social media and provide recommendations on moving forward. Thank you for considering me for a position as an activity team lead!

Debra Harris

Public Affairs Specialist, Defense Finance and Accounting Agency
Debra on LinkedIn
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I have more than five years’ experience leading project teams and creative teams. I bring 16 years design experience in both federal government and corporate environments. I have managed several communication strategies and special projects that required research, planning and evaluation. I serve as traffic manager for the corporate communications organization to provide customer service, project management, mentor visual artists, and run regular reports for agency leadership. I led a complete overhaul of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s website, The project included selecting a new host, purchasing software, creating the design and navigation, migrating content and training team members. I’ve written and executed communication plans for a variety of needs aimed at both the agency’s internal and external audiences. This includes drafting messages, creating designs, defining methods of distribution and measuring success.

Yasmine Kloth

Digital and Social Media Strategist, National Institutes of Health
Yasmine on LinkedIn
Yasmine on Twitter
Yasmine on Instagram
3 to 10 years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
I am interested in becoming involved in FCN in a leadership role because it would be an opportunity to share my content development and digital and social media communications skills with a group of talented communications individuals from across the government while at the same time allowing me to learn from this team of individuals all they have to offer. Over the past year and a half I have lead the development and growth of the social media program at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). During this time I have led the Center’s monthly Twitter chats and have particularly focused on developing partnerships with other Institutes and Centers as a way to help strengthen internal NIH ties as we share and spread important health information through these chats. FCN would be an opportunity to continue working with individuals in the communications field and I’d love to work on building and strengthening the professional relationships within FCN so that it is a place that can be a truly educational forum as we help each other to succeed in our respective subject areas. While I have spent the last three and a half years working on different communications teams at NCCAM, including content management, media, and product development, I began my career in journalism and believe FCN would be a chance to reconnect to that beginning—an opportunity to write, stay up-to-date on what’s new and exciting in the world of communications, and to remain connected to individuals with common goals and interests. Leading an FCN team would allow me to share what I’ve learned at NCCAM with a great government communications network, but to also learn new skills. For example, I would love to be able to work on the FCN blog, which would allow me to tap in to my writing skills as well as provide me with an opportunity to work on a platform that I haven’t yet had the chance to fully explore at NCCAM. I look forward to learning more about FCN and meeting all those involved.

Lisa Wilcox

Web Designer, USDA
Lisa on LinkedIn
Less than 3 years years of experience in government communications

Why are you the right person to help lead FCN? Tell voters about your skills, past experience, and plans for the organization (500 words or less).
Current guest blogger for the GSA's Mobile Gov Blog Tuesday Trends section, 12 years in the private sector of Social Media, web and UI design.

This post is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Best Practices for Graphic Design of a Twitter Profile

By: David Siecker, Communications Specialist, Tax Exempt/Government Entities, Communications & Liaison Office, December 10, 2013

After updating the FCN Twitter profile logo and background recently, I wanted to share some tips to help you start thinking about refreshing your Twitter profiles.

Here is where we started...

Below is the updated profile.

Here are some tips to help you start thinking.

  • Remember your profile picture (logo) is your main identity on Twitter. Use the correct logo or create a new one, then develop a background that supports it.
  • Avoid pictures behind text that you need people to read.
  • Use plain language and delete extra text.
  • Less is more. Consider how minimalist design can be used to its full effect.
  • Consider using words or graphics on left sidebar only that fade to a single background color.
  • Accommodate the 1024px width with a large background image (1600 x 1200px).
  • Ensure important text in the sidebars is visible in multiple screen widths.
  • Consider vertical text written like a book spine.
  • Only use pictures and graphics that are significant to your audience.

Have you rebranded/redesigned your social media accounts lately? What other tips can you share?

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including Live Tweeting Government Events: DOs and DON'Ts and How To Be A Fly On The Wall: The Dos and Don'ts of Sharing Executive Discussions.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Live Tweeting Government Events - DOs and DON'Ts

Photo of the author seated at a desk
By: Sara Harris Smith, Management Analyst and contractor supporting the Dept of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, December 4, 2013

In this time of tight travel budgets, not everyone can make it to every event or conference they’d like to attend. Luckily, Twitter has made it easier to share events through live tweeting.

Live tweeting is using Twitter to report on an event, speech, or presentation as it is happening.

When done right, live tweeting can help followers feel like they’re actually a part of the event. When done wrong, live tweeting can be an annoyance and deterrent to your followers. In our office, as I’m sure is true with others, the person attending a conference or meeting is not necessarily always the person who regularly tweets on behalf of the office. Not wanting our followers to miss the opportunity to follow along, I began providing coworkers with some basic instructions on live tweeting whenever they headed to a conference. To help make sure you’re providing your followers with the best information and getting the most out of your effort I’ve pulled together these instructions into a simple list of DOs and DON’Ts for live tweeting.



- If you’re organizing the event, agree on an event hashtag in advance with your partners. Do outreach in advance of the event to encourage attendees to use the hashtag. Put it on meeting materials and slides.

- Include an introductory tweet about the conference. This initial tweet lets your followers know where you are and what you will be tweeting about for the upcoming hour or days. If you’ll be publishing tweets later when you report on the event (for example, on your website using Storify or some other tool), be sure to notify your followers of that too.

- Use and follow the conference/meeting hashtag. Using the conference or meeting hashtag allows followers to easily track the entire conference conversation. Following the conference hashtag allows you to make sure your tweets are findable and contribute to the conversation.

- Introduce the presentation you will be live tweeting from. If you are tweeting from a conference and will be attending multiple presentations be sure to keep your followers in the loop with a quick introductory tweet.
- Tweet direct quotes/concepts from presentations. Use short concise quotes to convey the presenters overall idea. Pictures of presenters or slides are a great way to grab attention too.

- Find Twitter handles of presenters and the handles of the organizations with which presenters are affiliated and use those in your tweets. If you know what presentations you will be attending ahead of time make a list of Twitter handles for presenters and their organizations. This is a great way to interact with presenters and will increase retweets. It will also link your followers to more information on the presenters without having to tweet a biography.

- Link to interesting programs discussed in presentations. When you want to provide more information on a program or presentation, but don’t want to send a flood of back-to-back tweets, look for an informative website to point followers to.

- Send a Thank You tweet at the end of the conference. Sending a “Thank you” tweet at the end of conference is both polite and signals to your followers, “that’s a wrap!”

- Measure your success. Be sure you’re using an analytics tool to measure how far your messages travelled. Capture and report this data to key people, especially decision-makers who aren’t that familiar with live tweeting.



- Tweet for the sake of tweeting. Be picky about what you send out. Try setting a limit for the number of tweets you send per presentation. You don't want to overwhelm people's twitter streams. If a presentation is going too fast to keep up wait until the end and tweet one or two takeaways.

- Link to things that require some sort of payment to participate. All links should be purely about providing more information, not people having to open their wallets. This include articles behind paywalls, unfortunately.

- Get engaged in a back and forth with other Twitter users. If a follower asks a simple question about a presentation that would benefit other followers to answer then absolutely answer. If a follower has a more in depth question that you’d like to address but not have to send it out to your entire Twitter following ask them to DM you. However, if someone is clearly trying to pick an argument do not engage them.

- Use a bunch of abbreviations or slang. Yes, that pesky 140-character limit can be quite frustrating sometimes! However, when possible do not overuse slang or abbreviations such as 2 for to or too, or b4 for before.

- Directly criticize any presentation. If you were tweeting from your personal account then you should feel free to share your opinions, but when representing a federal Twitter account keep your personal opinions to yourself. Think of the old saying: "If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all."

I hope this list helps make your next live-tweeting experience a little easier! Do you have other tips and tricks? Please get in touch by commenting below.

Sara Harris Smith tweets about the environment, public health, social media, and emergency response from @saramhsmith.

This discussion is brought to you by the FederalCommunicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic, including How To Be A Fly On The Wall: The Dos and Don'ts of Sharing Executive Discussions and How You Can Use Google Plus To Boost Your Message: 10 Tips You Can Put To Use Now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

5 Tips for Communicating Technical Information: iPad Pilot

Photo of the author, Alan Greilsamer
Posted by: Alan Greilsamer, Communications Specialist, Department of Veterans Affairs, supporting the Connected Health office, November 7, 2013.

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug." — Mark Twain

It’s simple—you’re the technical expert; you know the topic inside out, so of course you can easily explain it to a captive audience. Right? Not always.

Communicators in every industry know that message development matters. External audiences, internal audiences and stakeholders of all kinds need clear information about your services, benefits and products.

However, government communicators can have an added challenge. Internal and external stakeholders with varying degrees of technical expertise often weigh in to review messages and provide input. It’s essential for you, as the professional communicator, to coach your team to focus on the value of the technology, rather than the technology itself, when it comes to messaging.

Photo of a seated person using an iPad that's propped up on a cat sitting on the person's lap
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Veronica Belmont, CC BY 2.0
This summer, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provided iPads to 1,000 family caregivers of post 9-11 veterans as part of the year-long VA Mobile Health Pilot that will test 10 mobile apps designed to help caregivers manage stress and the health and well-being of the veterans they assist.

A critical part of the pilot phase has been ensuring that all of the participants understand how to use the technologies they are helping to test. This can be a challenge as participants come from all walks of life—from individuals who have never used a mobile device to those who are tech-savvy.

As the communications lead on the project, I learned five valuable lessons in communicating technical information to a largely nontechnical audience:
The left column lists the options Summary, Contact Information, Medical Diagnoses, Allergies, Medications, Surgeries, and Upcoming Appointments. The Summary option is selected, and the remainder of the screen displays Medical Diagnoses (Upper Respiratory Infection Acute, Accident Caused By Earth Movi..., Ankle Joint Pain), Allergies (Bee pollen, Peanut, Penicillin, Penicillin), and Medications (Active and Recently Expired) (Abarelix, Abarelix). The screen is cut off but it clear that a user could swipe down to display additional information.
The VA Mobile Health Summary of Care app allows veterans and their caregivers to receive and view VA medical information.

  1. Be sure you can articulate your communications goals. We continuously go back to answer the question “What are we trying to accomplish?” It is a balancing act of trying to keep our internal team focused on the big picture communication goals while keeping the technical details in plain English to be understood by our nontechnical audiences. The critical piece is keeping conversations about communications focused on the big picture rather than getting stuck in the weeds regarding the technology’s functionality. Being comfortable with our communications end-goal allows us to keep everyone internally on the same page. 
  2. Know your audience. We don’t mean identifying stakeholders. We mean…Know Them! What makes them tick! Understand their comfort level with technology. How do they prefer to receive news and information, when is the best time to communicate with them and why are they involved with your program? At VA, we work directly with our Caregiver Support team, which is responsible for knowing our caregivers and their needs. They have helped us identify tone, style and frequency of the messages being disseminated to our caregivers and other audiences.
  3. The screen displays a header, Care4Caregivers, and five options in large boxes (Learn, Self Assessment, Manage, Find Support, and Launchpad). Below in smaller boxes are five additional options available for selection (Care4Caregiver, Learn, Assess, Manage, Support).
    The VA Mobile Health Care4Caregiver app helps caregivers track stress, provides stress coping tips, and links them to resources.
    Structure your messages. Some communicators use message maps and others use message boxes.  We structured messages in buckets so we could address our internal and external stakeholders. Our buckets include Vision, Value, Need to Know, and Calls to Action. This approach allows us to work from the same template and, as new apps are developed, think through—What is most valuable to veterans and their caregivers as well as health care teams.
  4. What’s in it for me. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the larger goal amidst the arduous vetting and approvals of what we as communicators do in the federal government. Making sure that every message is associated with a value to veterans, caregivers or clinicians helped us focus on the essential components.
  5. Be responsive. Ours was a pilot program and issues pop up. As they do, we work with our IT team to minimize the impact. We inform our help desk, update our website and develop easy-to-understand communications translating the current IT challenges and providing solutions as they are available.

Alan Greilsamer tweets about VA, mHealth, innovation, communications, his family and the Fightin’ Blue Hens at @alanjay724.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic. Check out Making Mobile Gov: User Experience Recommendations.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Making Mobile Gov: User Experience Recommendations

By: Jacob Parcell, Manager, Mobile Programs, GSA Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies - Sept 27, 2013

You only have a few minutes—sometimes seconds—to impress the anytime, anywhere user with your mobile app, website, or text message. If you don't impress them, they will turn to other sources for your information. Members of the Mobile Gov Community of Practice took this to heart when they developed 42 guidelines and recommendations for mobile communication. Review them yourself, share them (and the toolkit) with your staff and tell us what you think. Thanks! --Jacob

Making Gov Mobile: User Experience Recommendations

Mobile Gov User Experience Guidelines and Recommendations are here!

How We Did It

Official Army iPhone app
Photo courtesy of Flickr user The U.S. Army, CC BY 2.0
Last November, as part of revisiting the state of Mobile Gov, government mobile innovators identified a need for guidelines to help create amazing and engaging mobile user experiences. We convened a group to workshop around elements of mobile user experience with the goal to develop user experience practices for government.

We then asked you to set priorities and help hone a set of useful, actionable user experience guidelines and recommendations that agencies could adopt. More than 100 people from 35 federal agencies, states, the private sector and academia helped rank these practices in our crowdsourcing effort.

We took the feedback, did some analysis and posted these guidelines and recommendations developed by Mobile Gov practitioners on the Mobile Gov Wiki.

What We Found

We ended up with a foundation of 42 recommendations for agencies.

Information architecture (IA) practices–that is the logical structures that help people find information and complete tasks–were identified as the most critical recommendation. Bottom line, with less real estate on mobile screens, Mobile Gov developers need to focus on making the information and/or task easier to find.

See the Mobile User Experience Toolkit for help you can use to create good mobile IA.

The conversation on mobile user experience is not finished with just IA. It’s just heating up. As you can see, mobilegov innovators also recommended practices in functionality, content, trustworthiness and design.

What’s Next

First, take a look at the recommendations. They are meant to evolve as this fast moving technology evolves. Let us know what’s missing. Tell us how we can be clearer. Share your UX tips.

Next, you can learn more about the recommendations, how to implement them and get your questions answered at our webinar panel on September 25th with the folks from NIH, Department of Labor and the State Department who led this effort. Check out the archive here.

Last, stay tuned to the Mobile Gov blog, because over the next two weeks we’ll be featuring more recommendations.

So, watch the archived webinar and tell us your thoughts on these practices in the discussion area we’ve set up or in the comments below.

This post was originally published on the Mobile Gov blog from the Mobile Gov Community of Practice—thanks for letting us republish, guys! This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic. Check out Free Trainings and Events for Gov Communicators.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Burnout? Think Temporary Job

By: Marci Hilt, former Federal Communicators Network leader,
retired in 2010 with 43 years federal service
Photo of the author, Marci Hilt

Do you feel like you could do your job blindfolded and with your hands tied behind your back?

Do you dread coming to work every day? Are you losing respect for your agency, the government, and your profession? Are you tired of your job, even though it was exciting and challenging a few short years ago?

You, my friend, are suffering from burnout. It’s time for you to find a new job. But, in today’s job climate, that may be easier said than done.

Over the years, I saw a lot of people who had obviously burned out. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about it; they became the complainers, those folks who never did much of anything. Not only did they complain, many times, they actually went out of their way to keep others from doing their jobs.

When I faced burnout, I tried looking for a new job. I didn’t have any luck applying at different agencies. Then, I stopped looking for a new job in the standard way and started looking for temporary jobs where I could be detailed to another agency. That’s when I discovered a bonanza.

Feel You Could Do Your Job Blindfolded?
Photo of an office worker, a woman weating a red sweater, looking bored and tired
Photo courtesy Flickr user Jenica26, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There are a lot of temporary jobs available, you just have to keep your eyes open. I started looking for cross-disciplinary or interdepartmental team jobs that needed my skills. My first temporary assignment fell into my lap. At first I thought I was being punished. It was challenging and a little scary. But, it was a new interdepartmental job and my new boss wanted my ideas. I found I liked special assignments – particularly where no one had done the job before. That way, I could define the job the way I wanted to do it.

Don’t worry if the job is only for a few months. Most of the assignments I got were temporary, but they presented me with new challenges and demands that recharged and re-energized me. One of my temporary jobs was for six months, but I ended up working there for more than three years because they liked what I was doing and kept extending the assignment.

Dread Coming To Work Every Day?
Photo courtesy Flickr user danoxster CC BY-SA 2.0
Be creative when you’re looking. Work your contacts to see who knows of any temporary jobs that might be right for you. If you see a possible spot, talk to the person in charge and convince them they need to ask your boss to borrow you to do the job. I did that more than once and one time, my new boss was willing to swap one of her employees with my boss so I could work for her.

Each temporary job you get gives you more job skills to add to your resume, which makes you more valuable to future employers. It also shows your ability to land on your feet in new situations.

We all need a sense of purpose when we work. We need to feel that what we’re doing is important and that what we’re doing makes a difference.

So, if you see a temporary job advertized, be sure to apply. Even if you don’t get that job, you’ll be ready for the next one. Don’t give up: one of those job leads will eventually pan out.

If other employees tease you about your details, remember they’re just jealous because you’re having all the fun.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic. Check out Training Government Communicators - How Do You Grow A Professional Workforce? and Study: Feds Overwhelmingly Want To Innovate, But Agencies Send Mixed Signals.

Monday, September 9, 2013

How You Can Use Google Plus To Boost Your Message: 10 Tips You Can Put To Use Now

Posted by: Sara Crocoll, Presidential Management Fellow on Sept 9, 2013
Photo of the author, Sara Crocoll
In today’s budget climate in the government, we need solutions to our problems that are quick and inexpensive. We need to be able to maximize our efforts to provide original, quality content while simultaneously amplifying our messages to reach audiences where they are online. These two needs are frequently at odds. With Google+, you can fulfill both of these needs.

Developing and laying the proper groundwork for a Google+ page for your agency can deliver significant benefits via search engine optimization.
Google+ logo

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website in a search engine. When you use a Google+ page, Google can pull from that page to feed into their search engine results page. If you maximize your usage of your Google+ page, you have the potential to boost the rank of your websites and make them show up higher when people search for related content. This is important because most people click on the first item, or the first few items, on the results page.

How can I do this? 10 Tips!

    Example of the Google plus one button
  1. +1: Add the ability to Google +1 to your agency’s websites, by adding a button. This is probably one of the most effective ways to improve your rankings, because it allows users who interact with your website to give direct feedback to Google that your page is credible and useful. (Send your developers here.)
  2. 508 Compliance and Visibility: Go to and check the following tabs:
    • Accessibility: Change the presentation of some pages to work better with screen readers and other assistive tools.
    • Profile: Help others discover my profile in search results.
    By checking these two options, you are allowing your Google+ page to be more accessible. Get familiar with the Google Settings page; it allows for more control over your page.
  3. Links: Include all your main web and social media sites in the links section of your Google+ profile. You’ll also want to include these on your YouTube profile, as YouTube is owned by Google. Don’t forget to add your Google+ website to your YouTube profile!
  4. Query Terms: Ensure your preferred query terms related to your organization are included in your Google+ (and YouTube!) Introductions. However your audience is searching for your content, you’ll want to include those terms.
  5. Photos & Video: Add appropriate existing content to Google+ photos and videos. No reason to re-create it! In fact, U.S. government privacy rules say that Google+ shouldn’t be your only method of communication for a piece of information. Be sure that equivalent info is available on a government website somewhere.
  6. Circles: Add partners, related government agencies and relevant stakeholders to your circles.
  7. Communities: Join and engage in communities. Pick reputable, active communities relevant to your organization. Consider the amount of members and the quality of the discussions occurring in the community. Think about what your organization can really add to the discussion. Post regularly in these communities and engage in meaningful dialogue.
  8. Posts: Remember, posts are editable, in case you have updates or corrections or wish to attach media that you did not do previously. Ensure that you are embedding links into posts.
  9. Title Tag: When creating a post, the first sentence becomes part of what is called the title tag. The title tag is highly correlated with Google search rankings. Select your first sentence carefully, including your desired query terms, and remember that the title tag will be the first sentence most people see. Create a bold title for each post and Google will use that as the browser title in Search+. You can bold a title by doing *Word*and you can italicize by _Word_.
  10. Sharing Content: You’ll want to +1 mention others when sharing others’ content.

Google+ Strategy for Maximizing SEO

Search engine optimization word cloud with magnifying class. The cloud includes the words "search," "engine," and "optimization," and the magnifying glass is over the acronym "SEO"
  • Invest in quality over quantity
  • Build G+ networks (via followers, circles, influencers, and communities)
  • Engage with active, relevant influencers and communities
  • Post original, shareable content that is likely to be linked to, re-shared, recommended, helps people and answers questions 

While you should carefully develop your Google+ strategy, hopefully these simple tips will help with maximizing your SEO while using your Google+ page. Many of these tips involve set up and minor maintenance. Consider using content you’ve already developed. You could be pleasantly surprised by the results!

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic. Check out 5 Tips – How To Write For The Web and Measure Campaign Effectiveness with Link Shortening.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to Be a Fly on the Wall: The Dos and Don'ts of Sharing Executive Discussions

Posted by: Dave Hebert, FCN 2013 Co-Chair
Photo of the author, Dave Hebert.

A sure way to drive employees crazy is to never share what executives discuss or decide until a new mandate lands on the organization’s collective head. While senior leaders should expect some privacy in decision-making and debate, they should also expect to openly hold themselves accountable and to make sure their employees know where the organization is headed.

One way to offer that clear accountability and communication is by keeping people apprised of what happens in important executive meetings, even as those meetings are happening. Here are a few things you should and should not do when you open the doors, so to speak, on high-level meetings.

Live Blogging at Woolfcamp
Photo courtesy Flickr user suerichards, CC BY-ND 2.0

Which Meetings Should Be Live Blogged or Otherwise Covered for an Internal Audience?

Do plan to cover meetings in which topics important to many, if not all, employees will be discussed and related decisions will be made. Don’t cover a meeting simply because executives will be there — they have to attend a lot of meetings, and many don’t interest them, much less everyone else.

Setting Expections about Coverage.

Do all you can to ensure that everyone, including the executives themselves, is aware that the discussion will be documented for employees. Don’t assume that one memo or a mention at the weekly senior staff meeting will make its way through the agency.

Do set explicit expectations about what and how will be covered in the meeting, including the sort of information that will be shared and the media used to share it. Execs need to trust you, and employees will define trust of execs through your coverage. Don’t make employees think they are going to get sensitive info before it’s ready to be shared, and don’t surprise your leaders with a video camera when they think you’re keeping written comments.

Analytics: Measure Your Live-Blogging (or Other Coverage) for Internal Communications.

Do find a way to measure participation, whether through web metrics software looking at your executive blog, email delivery services, or the other analysis tools. You can also poll employees about whether they followed the coverage and why. Don’t assume that everyone will stay glued to your coverage all day (remember, they’re at work) or that attention is the same as assent.

Make It Live for Better Internal Communication.

Do strongly advocate for live or near-live coverage to ensure that the discussion is captured and the word is out. Don’t agree to a process through which meeting notes are approved and scrubbed clean by every cook in the executive kitchen — if this happens, you might as well not cover the meeting.

The Writing: Good Material, Clear Messages.

Do keep the voice and tense of the coverage clear and consistent, and time/date stamp your posts. Don’t make employees have to think about who’s writing the updates or when they were supposed to be written.

Do pay close attention to what’s being discussed so you can pull out the best material to share. Don’t check your email, write that proposal you’ve been meaning to get to, or browse for jobs while you’re supposed to be covering the event.

Do make quotes, paraphrases, and attributions crystal clear. Don’t leave out important contextual information that leaves employees wondering what on Earth these overpaid clowns are thinking.

White Board Sheet Guy
Photo courtesy of Flickr user dannyman, CC BY-ND 2.0

Managing Comments and Participation While Live-Blogging for Internal Communications.

Do come up with one or two good questions to ask individual leaders during breaks or at the end of the event. Don’t ask them a question that would put them in an awkward position with their colleagues (“So, why do you think Brenda’s programs keep getting cut?”).
Do gather and consider how to handle incoming employee comments during the event, whether through email, blog comment section, or otherwise, and bring up good ones during breaks or when asked. Don’t raise your hand to read out feedback every time it comes in during the meeting.

This discussion is brought to you by the Federal Communicators Network. FCN members are government employees managing U.S. government communications. We've published lots more on this topic. Check out Internal Communications To Improve Employee Relations and Your Employee Survey Data Should Drive Internal Communication Strategy... But Be Careful.